A Forced Rest and Contentment

“Forced rest” was a phrase a friend of mine used a few weeks ago during a prayer time. I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot since then. The phrase wasn’t directed at me but even so, it got my attention. The pain in my lower back is so intense that I am forced to seriously edit what activities I engage in. Typically, I’d be ultra-busy during my vacation; there are workouts to do, hikes to take, blogs to write, books to read, home improvement or other fixer upper stuff to do, and so on. Instead, I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on my rump simply reading or journaling.

Then yesterday my devotional was about contentment; another area that has recentlycontentment garnered my attention. Pain sometimes causes contentment to be elusive if not wholly absent. Still, Scripture states we are to learn contentment.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.

—Philippians 4:11

Paul is stating that he had to acquire the knowledge to be content in all circumstances. Such learning is an active pursuit of knowledge with the goal of applying that knowledge in everyday life. In other words, Paul is continuing to expand his understanding of contentment. Interestingly, contentment actually means “self-sufficient;” however, Paul doesn’t stop here. He goes onto say in verses 12 and 13 that he has learned to be content when life is going well and when life is not going well. But he is careful to note that this ability, this learning, is enabled “through Christ who strengthens me” (v. 13). No, this isn’t some sort of mystical strength allowing Paul to somehow change his circumstances through enhanced faith; it’s much more practical than that. It is the Holy Spirit enabling Paul to contentedly endure whatever circumstances he’s facing.

This is easier said than done, of course. One exercise that helps me in contentment is from a song in the movie White Christmas, “Count Your Blessings.” It is so simple to do and yet, for some reason, seems archaic; but it works. For instance, despite the pain, I have a family that loves me that includes a wonderful Bride that is cheerfully picking up chores I’m currently unable to do, two healthy sons that are loving and helpful, a beautiful home, great friends, a career I enjoy…you get the point. To my knowledge, Paul had none of these. In fact, many Bible scholars and historians suggest that Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Hello!? In prison and he’s still writing about contentment? That’s a sobering thought; so who am I to wallow in self-pity? Contentment is a much happier space to be in.

Another tool I’ve discovered on my journey toward contentment is to stop the “what-if-ing.” Though no specific event caused my current pain, I still am tempted to second-guess things I’ve done in my past that may have contributed to increased wear and tear. This is fruitless and only leads to self-shame.

I also strive to stop daydreaming about what I wish I was doing. We recently bought some snowshoes, but they’re still in their packaging in the garage. My bike is primed and ready to ride, plus the weather has been decent; but it, to, sits in the garage. And I’ve recently learned about some hiking trails close to home we’ve never ventured on. None of these activities are doable right now; so why focus on them in wishful bitterness?

I can still walk and do a few other little “exercise-y” things, so I’m choosing to embrace those with thankfulness. And, of course, I pray—often! I pray that my joy may be full (1 John 1:4, John 15:11 & 16:24), that my peace may be deep (Philippians 4:7), that my love is real (Matthew 5:44, John 13:35 & 15:12-13, Romans 12:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8), and, of course, for healing (Matthew 4:23, Acts 9:34 and 1 Peter 2:24).

Leaning into Christ will enable us to endure through any circumstance with contentment. And one day, all pain will cease (Revelation 21:4); but until that day, we can be thankful that the Lord is with us no matter what we are going through.

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Can We Bless God?

Septuagint

The first word in Psalm 103 is “bless.” The Hebrew word is barak and in the Septuagint, the Old Testament in the Greek language, it is eulogeo.  Some Bible versions render these words as “praise,” but there are other Hebrew and Greek words for praise (hallelu, hallei, and yadah in the Hebrew; and epainos in the Greek). While the definitions are similar in nature, I think they are distinct enough to call out the differences; especially when the first line in Psalm 103 is:

Bless the Lord, O my soul.

The question this raises is how do we bless the Lord?

The essence of the word ‘bless’ is a bit complex. The meaning, according to various references, is centralized in the interior of our soul. Praise, however, is more centralized in the external expression in a worship service or some other outward demonstration of faith.

So what’s the big deal?

I think the big deal is, as Bullock states, “The person who praises must endow the vocabulary of praise with content. We can praise God without using the special language of praise, but we cannot long maintain the genuineness of that language without relating His being and works”[1].  To bless God, then, is a recognition of specific works of God with an intentional expression of thankfulness for those specific works.

For instance, Psalm 103 gives some very specific works that we can intentionally express gratitude for. He forgives our iniquities and heals our diseases (v. 3). He redeems our lives from destruction (v. 4, and my personal favorite). He crowns us with loving kindness and tender mercies and satisfies us with good things (vv. 4-5). He’s merciful and slow to anger (v. 8); and on and on it goes in just this psalm alone.

I think the lesson in Psalm 103, and others like it, is that blessing God’s heart is our expressing thankful acknowledgement for specific things God has done for us. Such specific things can be reciting what we read in Scripture, or, more personally, deliverances God has done specific to our own lives. For example, I was facing a significant challenge at work but with the click of an email from someone else, the challenge dissipated away, leaving me stunned and inexpressibly grateful for His deliverance. He brought deliverance in a way that was completely unexpected. Another example is if one of my sons says he loves me, that warms my heart; but if he states something specific, like the way I help him with his homework or the times we spend together in the wilderness or on our bikes, I’m deeply blessed. Why? Because he shared a specific thing that brings blessing to his soul which then in turn brings blessing to mine. Why would our heavenly Father be any different?

Praise on the other hand, while a good thing, is often motivated by some external stimuli such as music or maybe a touching play or movie. Such stimuli may spark momentary thankfulness in a more general sense, but it often fades away as the stimuli fades away. Blessing God, though, is internally motivated and, because it’s in the depth of our souls, is not reliant on external stimuli and can be recalled at any moment throughout our day.

So while the differences may seem minor, I still think they are distinctive enough to understand. Besides, if the distinctions were unimportant to God, why would He go to such great care to use such distinctive words in Scripture?

[1] C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books: Revised and Expanded, Moody Publishers, 1988; Kindle location 2850.